Middle Vs. Modern English in the Canterbury Tales

Middle Vs. Modern English in the Canterbury Tales
As its name suggests, Middle English is the language that was spoken in the country of England around the 12th to 15th centuries. Middle English became the prominent language in England near the end of the 11th century shortly after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror in 1066. Unlike England?s preceding language, Old English, Middle English evolved into much more of a written language. There were many writers and educated English scholars who worked to translate Old English texts into the new Middle English language. There were also writers, such as Geoffrey Chaucer, who used the Middle English language to write new works which employed new and creative literary techniques. One such work, The Canterbury Tales, is a work that has been recognized as having an extreme significance on the development of the Middle English language. This work is argued to be the greatest literary contribution to the Middle English language and is credited with popularizing the language among literary scholars. However, despite its historical influence on the Middle English language, the significance of the work is less seen today because of the evolution of Modern English. As a result, it is important to investigate the origins of this work and in so doing, make an effort to realize the overall importance of reading the text in its original Middle English language.Geoffrey Chaucer was born in London about 1340. Although many facts about his life are unknown, it is evident in his writing that Chaucer was a very educated man. After many years of being employed by English nobles, Chaucer began to travel to many different parts of Europe. While on these trips, Chaucer discovered the works of many great literary scholars including Petrarch, Boccaccio, and Dante. The influence of these individuals can be seen in his works throughout his career. However, one work, The Canterbury Tales, shows significant literary influence from many of his contemporaries. Despite the many influences, Chaucer showed his true expertise in how he was able to blend old literary techniques with his own new ideas. Many scholars have praised Chaucer for creating characters that the average middle-class English individual could relate to. Many of his ?tales? are about middle-class individuals such as a merchant or a miller. It is for this reason why this work was so significant among the English in the Middle Ages. Chaucer gave middle-class England a scholarly literary work that the average individual could understand. As a result, the work became well-known among the English citizens, which led to the popularizing of Chaucer?s language.

The Canterbury Tales, has withstood the test of time mainly because of the well-known historical influence the work has had on the development of the English language. Today, many individuals continue to read the work and enjoy it for many of the same reasons the individuals of the middle ages enjoyed it. However, many readers of the work today do not realize the historical significance this work has had on the English language as a result of the works translation into modern English. This is why many publications of the work contain both the modern translation as well as the Middle English version. By comparing the two versions, one can see how the modern English language was shaped by Middle English. For example, you can find the same root of many modern English words in the words of the middle English language. The context of such words as suffisaunt, meaning sufficient, or bataille, meaning battle, can mostly be understood by just looking at the spelling of the word. However, sometimes Chaucer?s verses are not so easy to understand as a result of the contextual evolutions of some English words. For example, in line 765 of The Knightes Tale,, Chaucer writes in middle English: ?O Cupid, out of alle charitee!? At first glance of this verse, one can see the word ?charitee? is spelled similar to the modern English word ?charity.? After examining the Latin root of both words which means love, one can infer that both these words have similar contexts. However, another word in the verse, ?out,? as a much different context in middle English than it does in modern English. At first glance of this verse, one might infer that this statement means that ?Cupid has a lack of charity.? However, as the modern English version translates, the word ?out? actually has the same context as the word ?beyond? in modern English. As a result, the verse takes on a completely different context than one might have originally thought in the way it reads in modern English, ?O Cupid, beyond all charity!?

The Canterbury Tales is a work consisting of stories written in both prose and verse. In both of these writing styles, word order and sentence structure are both extremely important not only to help understand the context of the sentence but to also emphasize the beauty of the language and the verse. This is another reason why it is important to read Chaucer?s work in its original language at first. One can see the true literal mastery of Chaucer, as well as his ability to write beautiful verses when reading the middle English. For example, in The Knight?s Tale Chaucer writes:

?The day approcheth of hir retourninge,

That everich shoulde an hundred knightes bringe," (Lines 1237-1238)
Although many of the words are spelt much differently than the modern English spellings, the context of the words is somewhat easy to understand. The mastery of such a verse lies in the structure of the writing. The beautiful rhyme along with the easy to follow meter, make this verse much more meaningful than the modern English translation. The modern English translation lacks the rhyme and does not contain the consistent meter:

?The day approached for their return,

When each of them should bring a hundred knights" (Lines 1237-1238)

As one can see, when reading a work such as The Canterbury Tales, there are many advantages and disadvantages to the work being in both middle and modern English. Before reading such a work, one must realize his or her own purpose for reading the work and then decide on which version to read. It is the opinion of many that it is beneficial to read both versions in order to educate one self about both languages as well as to experience the evolution of the English language. The English language has changed greatly over the many centuries since the time this work was written. However, this work helps create a bridge between the languages of the middle and modern English worlds. This was a work that transcended any work previously written and one that will continue to have an important place in the history of English literature and the English language as a whole.

Middle Vs. Modern English in the Canterbury Tales 9.4 of 10 on the basis of 1708 Review.